The Long Tail of Edtech

In case you missed it, last weekend education technology enthusiast, Steve Hargadon, applied the long-tail framework to explain some of the key trends we are seeing in the edtech space right now in his post, A “Tail” of Two Edtech Agendas. I think this is a very helpful way to understand why certain startups are capturing much of the capital and media attention right now, even though they may not be poised to deliver the deeper disruption that many of us are hopeful for.

I cannot agree more with his point that we must shift our focus to solutions that target users (students, educators, parents) that make up the long tail. He describes “success in the tail is differentiation, diversity, and choice,” which I believe are the basis of personalized, self-paced learning that can (and in a few cases already are) revolutionizing teaching and learning.

He goes on to state “edtech reform in the head is about using money to scale simplified solutions of that which is popular, or the status quo. Ed tech reform in the tail is about using the network to provide freedom and choice” which captures an important aspect of scaling a truly differentiated and choice-based model, the network. In order to meet the needs of all types of learners, we must engage and build community with all types of educators, establishing a solid network to capture and deliver customized learning solutions.

If you’re interested in helping bridge the educator and edtech communities to start establishing this type of network right here in Silicon Valley, please join us for our first Teacher Tech Talk event, Friday March 23, 4-6pm at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park.

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Engaging the education community

I had the opportunity to speak to Imagine K12‘s 2nd cohort today on how to approach marketing/distribution in edtech, which for me centers around building community, empowering product evangelists and engaging teachers/parents to help share your story. I’m happy to share my slides and would love to hear from anyone who has had particular success engaging with their user community to grow their brand and user base. What have you found are the best strategies for reaching educators and parents in this highly fragmented environment?

NSVF- Planting the seed

Last night I had the opportunity to attend the launch event for New Schools Venture Fund SeedFund, the most recent endeavor of dynamic duo Wayee Chu and Jennifer Carolan, who also spearheaded the EdTech Lab at Stanford this time last year. With the team at NSVF, these two have spent years encouraging and investing in entrepreneurs passionate about building tools and systems to help all kids have access to a high quality public education. Jennifer’s most recent blog post shares the thought process behind creating this seed stage funding opportunity and how supporting these entrepreneurs early on has the real potential to improve the struggling K-12 education system. The event attracted an impressive audience of VCs, angels, entrepreneurs and members of the community that have devoted their lives to improving education outcomes for all kids.  The highlight for me was Jennifer and Alan Louie, from Imagine K-12, kicking off the event with some compelling reasons why the timing is right to truly change education now. The stars have aligned in the following ways:

  • Technology: Current infrastructure (ie. AWS, Rackspace) makes it easier than ever to build a startup and pc/tablet penetration is increasing ( there is a 3:1 ratio of kids to computers (on avg))
  • Talent: 40% of teachers are under 30 years old and feel very comfortable using technology in the classroom
  • Common Core is laying the framework to consolidate learning goals/standards across the country (adopted by 43 states already)
  • Budget constraints: strapped districts, now more than ever, are looking for tools/systems to help them do more with less

I think another big point related to technology that was not mentioned is the availability and ability to use data in a meaningful and actionable way to drive personalized, self-paced learning to meet kids where they are and help each of them succeed on their own timeline.

Overall, I love the optimism and forward-looking tone of the evening, especially when it’s so easy to get dragged down by the history of education reform and all the strategies that have been unsuccessful in the past. The night continued with presentations from the first three companies in the SeedFund; Goalbook, Engrade and LearnZillion.

Efforts like these, that are seeking to improve education outcomes for kids and communities that need it the most, are what fuel my own passion for this work. They push us all to rethink the role of schools, what teaching and learning can and should look like in a student-centered world. We can get there, together, and NSVF is helping to plant those seeds.

Just ask your teacher!

All good entrepreneurs know that the best way to improve their product is with a user-centered design approach, collecting and incorporating feedback from their target users on an on-going basis. However, when those target users are teachers, there are many challenges to getting some of their precious time and attention. A recent guest post on EdWeek from Roxanna Elden articulately captures the complicated relationship between teachers and education technology.

Enter, BetaClassroom.org. What started out as Jennie Dougherty’s simple blog to share her experiences testing new edtech tools in her classroom has blossomed into a platform for teachers around the world to beta test various products and share/review feedback from other teachers in the network. Beta Classroom connects edtech entrepreneurs with teachers who are excited to try out new products to see what will help them manage their time and classrooms more effectively. I encourage you all to check it out and more importantly invite any teachers you know who would be interested in participating in this community. Keep in mind that it is in it’s early stages, so like any new product, I’m sure your feedback is welcome!